Starter Problems – Funny Sounds, No Sounds, What Do You Hear

Starter Problems - Funny Sounds, No Sounds, What Do You Hear
Starter Problems - Funny Sounds, No Sounds, What Do You Hear

What if your engine is cranking as usual, but refuses to start.

You’re likely dealing with an ignition or fuel system issue, not starter problems.

If you don’t know anything about starter problems, then it’s probably best to contact someone, like your local repair shop.

But, if you know a bit about vehicles, then you might be able to solve Starter Problems yourself.

The starter is responsible for starting the engine, when you turn the key, or push the start button. It takes that energy to turn over the engine and start the vehicle. Simply put, without a properly working starter, you’re going nowhere.

Starter Motor Parts

Funny Sounds, Or No Sound, When You Try To Start Your Engine

Some of the most common electrical problem:

  • Bad neutral safety switch (automatic transmission).
  • Bad clutch safety switch (manual transmission).
  • Possible bad starter relay.
  • A bad starter solenoid.
  • Corroded electrical connections, in the starting circuit.
  • Worn-out parts in the starter motor, or some other system component.
  • Fuel pump.
  • Crankshaft-Camshaft Position Sensors.

Engine Turning Over Slowly, May Indicate Starter Problems

Starter On Engine

If your lights are bright with the engine off. But, they get really dim when you, turn the engine over with the starter. And, the engine turns over very slowly, you may have starter problems. If battery terminals get hot, along with the battery cable (positive and negative) you probably have starter problems. A starter doing this, has worn out brushes, bushings, or shorted windings or commutator. It may need a complete rebuild or replacement.

Nothing Happens, When You Turn The key

You turn the key to start, and either nothing happens, or there is a very quiet single click.

So, there could be a wiring problem. Anything from the key switch to any number of safety interlocks, and anti theft devices. But, most of the time it’s the starter. On starters with the solenoid on top (GM, most others) the solenoid grounds through the starter brushes.

Solenoid Mounted On Starter
Solenoid Mounted On Starter

And, when the brushes make bad contact, you get the “silent treatment” when you turn the key. The small wire going to the solenoid, should get 12 volts, when the key is turned to “start”. If 12 volts is there and there is no action, then the starter is probably bad.

Make It Work One More Time !!

Often you can tap on the starter and make it start one more time. Use a regular hammer, and tap lightly on the side of the starter towards the rear. While an assistant holds the key in the “start” position.

Tap Starter Here
Tap Starter Here

Very often the starter will spin the engine over one more time. What happens is the brushes wear out in the starter, making a bad electric contact. Tapping on the starter with a hammer, jars the brushes back in place, where they’ll make contact one more time.

You Get A Single Loud Click, But, No Motor Turning Over

If you get a single fairly loud click when you turn the key to “start”. But, the starter doesn’t “turn over”, you may have a bad starter solenoid. A solenoid is just a switch, which is operated by electricity. So, vehicles use a solenoid, switching the large starter current, with a small current from the ignition switch.

Solenoid Mounted On Fender
Solenoid Mounted On Fender

On some vehicles the solenoid is on the starter. Others (Fords, mostly) have an external solenoid, usually on the fender or radiator core support. On all vehicles the starter solenoid is at the other end, of the large positive battery cable.

Diagnosing Starter Problems – What Do You Hear:

  • “I hear a whirring sound.”
  • “It’s a buzzing sound.”
  • “I hear a loud click.”
  • “It’s more like a grinding noise.”
  • “I don’t hear anything!”
  • “My headlights don’t work.”
  • “Cranking the engine makes, my headlights dim or go out.”
  • “My headlights are fine, but my engine still won’t start.”

I Just Hear A Whirring Sound

Starter motors, use a small device called an overrunning clutch, or one-way clutch. When you turn the ignition key, the starter solenoid interlocks the starter pinion gear with the flywheel. Then, rotates the engine at “cranking speed”. Once the engine starts and exceeds cranking speed, the overrunning clutch, releases the pinion gear from the flywheel.

However, if the solenoid mechanism, is too worn to engage the flywheel. Then, all you’ll hear is a swishing sound as the armature in the starter spins all by itself. And, is unable to crank the engine to a start. So, this sound may indicate that the solenoid in the starter is worn out.

I Hear A Buzzing Sound

Sometimes you just hear a buzzing sound. Electrical current is making it to the starter solenoid. But, all it does is try unsuccessfully to activate the solenoid’s plunger, to engage the pinion gear and flywheel.

Dead Car Battery
Dead Car Battery

This failure is usually caused by poor current flow, due to low battery charge. Or poor electrical connections along the starting circuit, including corroded battery terminals.

I Hear A Loud Click

On the other hand, if you can hear a single, solid click, the starter circuit may be getting enough current. But, you may have a bad starting motor, bad solenoid, or even an engine mechanical problem.

It’s More Like A Grinding Noise

If you hear a harsh or grinding noise as you try to crank up the engine. Then, you may have a loose starter motor (mounting bolts). Or a flywheel or pinion gear with broken or worn out teeth.

Starter Ring Gear Damaged
Starter Ring Gear Damaged
Starter Drive Damaged
Starter Drive Damaged

So, if the gears on the flywheel flexplate and pinion aren’t able to mesh properly. Then, all you hear is, the sound of metal teeth grinding.

I Don’t Hear Anything (starter problems)

When you try to start your engine, you may hear no sound at all.

This Silence May Be Due To Electrical Issues:

  • A discharged or failed battery.
  • A failed system component (for example, relay or safety switch).
  • Corroded electrical connections (including battery terminals), that prevent electrical current from reaching the starter motor.

If All Is Good And You Need A Boost – How To Jumpstart Your Engine

It’s relatively easy to jump start your engine, with the help of another vehicle.

Jump Start
Jump Start

You can jump start a vehicle without another vehicle, if it has a manual transmission. But, if the vehicle is an automatic, another vehicle will be needed:

  • Pull the other vehicle close to your vehicle, and open both hoods.
  • Turn off everything in both vehicles, including radio and vents.
  • Take the jumper cables and first connect the red clamp, to the positive (+) battery terminal on the vehicle that’s dead.
  • Connect the red clamp to the positive (+) terminal on the vehicle, with the good battery.
  • Make sure the clamps are touching the metal of each terminal.
  • However, if the terminals are corroded, you may need to clean them with steel wool or other tool.
  • Next, connect the black clamp to the negative (-) battery terminal, on the good battery.
  • Connect the last black clamp on an unpainted metal object.
  • Such as a bolt away from the dead battery on the dead vehicle. This will provide a ground..
  • Start the engine with the good battery, and follow with the vehicle with the dead battery.
  • Let the vehicles sit idle for several minutes.
  • Once your vehicle is running smoothly, disconnect the jumper cables, in reverse order that you connected them. (black clamp on dead battery first, black clamp on good battery, etc.).
  • Drive your vehicle for at least 15 minutes, before turning it off again.
  • Important note about your battery.


So, starter problems, may be caused by poor maintenance, or just wear and tear. Even with decent maintenance, the different system components, get a lot of wear during their service life. And, are bound to start having problems eventually.

Problems may show up as a no crank or slow cranking condition. Usually, caused by a worn out component, a bad electrical connection, or a dead battery.